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South East Asia Golden Travel Rules

THAILAND | Saturday, 26 December 2009 | Views [1424] | Comments [1]

1.) Never trust a tuk tuk! Or a cab driver. Both exist only to scam as much money as possible from you. Especially the ones that hang out in the tourist areas. If there’s a meter available, insist they use the meter. If not (such as motorbike taxis in Vietnam) ask at least 3 different drivers how much to take you to where you’re going. Getting different quotes gives you a baseline fare, but always try to cut it by about 1/3 to ¼ of the lowest quoted fare, because chances are, its still over priced.

2.) Never book anything in advance, or trust a travel agent. It’s ok to book train and bus tickets when you know when you want to go, and do so a few days in advance during busy tourist seasons and dates, such as Christmas, /New Year’s, Chinese New Year, festivals, etc. but on the road, things can change. Sometimes, you get somewhere you LOVE, and want to stay extra, or leave sooner. If you book your next leg, you give yourself a deadline in an area. There’s many different routes, and ways to travel, so its usually ok to book at the last minute. One day ahead is perfect.

Same thing goes for tours and hotels. Tour agents will make it seem like you need to book way in advance, but they make you pay up front, then if the weather sucks, you are stuck taking the boat trip snorkel tour anyway. Or travel agents offer “special package rates”, which turn out to be a crock of shit when you get there. You realize that if you booked everything yourself directly, you would have paid way less. Logic says, “If I give this person lots of business (ie. multiple tour/ ticket/ hotel bookings) they will give me a discount” The 2 tour agents I dealt with, who seemed very nice and helpful, ended up OVER charging me when I gave them repeat business. I think it’s a different mindset- one that says, “Get as much money as possible out of this person, because they may never be back”.

Or, you might think its better to book your next leg of the journey, so you have your hotel reserved. Chances are, the hotels that take bookings online via their own website or a 3rd party are over priced. Having a web presence costs money. I’ve found that at EVERY bus and train station and airport, there’s always plenty of accommodation options available, usually competing for your business. So you can stand there and see what’s available, and how much, while the agents fight among themselves to give you the best price. Some will even give you free transport to their guesthouse/ hotel, saving you the time, stress and rip-off of taking a cab or tuk tuk (see rule number 1).

3.) Cash is king. Sad, but true. Try using a credit card in Asia, and most stores, agents, hotels, etc. will charge you an additional 3%-8% fee, on top of the price they want. Then, expect to pay your credit card company another 2%-4% international usage fee. The HSBC bank credit card, and a few others don’t issue an additional fee.

Cash is also king because you can use it anywhere. The majority of merchants in Asia accept cash only.

4.) Always add at LEAST 1-2 hours onto the quoted travel time. Trains are fairly accurate, with only about 1-2 hours more than the quoted arrival time.

Busses, especially long bus rides through decrepit roads will usually take a lot longer than originally intended. Add 3-4 hours onto the quoted bus travel time, but don‘t be surprised if it turns out to be 5 hours or more! Traffic, poor roads, border stops, and mechanical difficulties will slow your down.

Boats usually take a bit longer than quoted, but sometimes it takes a while to disembark.

Planes are pretty accurate.

But never book connecting legs on travel unless you have at least a 6 hour window. And add on plenty of travel time if you need to transfer from the train station to the bus station, or make it out to the airport.

5.) Travel light. This is over-stated, but its true. Having a good backpack will keep your crap on your back and make you more mobile than a suitcase, but if your pack is too heavy for you to run for a train, or get up and down stairs with, consider dumping some of your stuff. Into the appreciative hands of a less fortunate local.

6.) There’s power in numbers. When traveling alone, especially when arriving late at night, its best to meet another lone traveler on the bus/ train/ plane and see if you can travel together into the main part of town. The travellers’ route is quite narrow, so chances are, they are going to the same backpacker’s area as you. Sharing a cab makes you less vulnerable to the thieves and scammers that hang out in the transportation hubs. Also, the person might have some helpful advice on how much a cab should cost, or where to stay, or what the scoop in the area is. If you can gather a group who all wants to do the same thing, you can usually negotiate a better rate on a tour. Especially on the smaller tours, such as boat trips or trekking, where your posse is the entire group.

7.) Check the exchange rate on days when you visit the ATM, or a money exchange, or make a major purchase, such as transportation tickets. Knowing the exchange rate helps you accurately judge how much money to pull from an ATM, and write down the amount on your receipt (usually the max amount is best, b/c you get charged money on the local ATM, and your home bank for withdrawals). Also, it pays to visit several money exchanges, because they usually have different rates. Some vary quite widely. Lots of ticket agents, especially in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos offer to take payment in US Dollars, or the local currency, or, in Cambodia and Laos, they accept Thai &/ or Vietnamese currency. So, knowing which currency will give you the best rate may add up to a nice meal or two when you pick the right currency. In my experience, using Cambodian money in Cambodia gives you a worse exchange rate than using dollars, while using Laos money in Laos gives you a better rate. But usually local currency is best.

8.) If you want to save cash, don’t tell the person you’re dealing with that you’re American. It’s sad, but true. People think Americans are the richest, so they will “bargain” with you down to what seems like a better rate than the original one. But talk to any European or Aussie in the same group as you, and chances are, they paid less. I don’t know if they just have better haggling skills than I do, but I think they just get a lower baseline quote. Even though the Euro and Pound are way stronger currencies than the Dollar. Maybe they’re just notoriously cheaper than Americans. I don’t know…

Last but not least….. Have fun! It’s more of an adventure than sitting at home. And all of the drama, comedy, frustrations and memories build character. Travel in South East Asia and your impressions of your home will never be the same!

Tags: money saving tips, schemes, south east asia advice, tours, travel tips



Hey missy_carrie_gee,

We really like your story and decided to feature it this week on the WorldNomads Adventures homepage so that others can enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!
World Nomads

  World Nomads Jan 18, 2010 3:07 PM

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